KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Travis Ganong didn’t know what to expect in his first-ever Olympic run.
“I just let myself relax and just let my skiing take over,” he said.
His skiing took him to an impressive result — fifth place in the downhill at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on Sunday.
Ganong, 25, of Squaw Valley, Calif., was the top American in one of the premier events of the winter games. He held on to a podium spot until bib No. 18, Aksel Lund Svindal, knocked him out.
Austrian Matthias Mayer, who has never won a World Cup race, took gold with a time of 2 minutes, 6.23 seconds. Christof Innerhofer, of Italy, nabbed the silver and Kjetil Jansrud, of Norway, rounded out the podium.
After three days of training in sunny conditions, race day was overcast, humid and a bit warmer. Medal favorite Bode Miller, who was fastest in the final training run, finished a disappointing eighth. He said he struggled with the changing conditions and poor visibility that occurred by the time he raced as the No. 15 bib.
While Ganong seemed to be surprised with his result, Miller wasn’t.
“He’s one of those guys who has confidence in his ability and he’ll go out and ski hard no matter what,” he said.
The challenging Sochi course is long and intense, with a fearsome vertical drop and no sections where you can rest. But Ganong was able to tame it, picking up time at the bottom of the course, flying into the nearly full stadium at the finish.
“I went out there and I made some turns,” Ganong said. “I enjoyed the moment and had a good run.”
Ganong has been soaking in his first Olympics. Marching with the team at the opening ceremony Friday inspired him to step up his game for the downhill race.
His family traveled all the way from Lake Tahoe to support him. They were in the grandstands wearing USA hats and “Go Travis” scarves.
“It’s unbelievable,” sister Ali Ganong said. “It’s like a dream because I used to ski race as well. It’s amazing to know all the kids growing up in Tahoe kind of have their hearts set that they want to go to the Olympics one day, and he’s here, so it’s really awesome.”
His mother, Jan, said the Olympics have been a dream come true for the family.
“It has been a long road, but always a really exciting one because Travis had so much excitement for the sport,” Jan Ganong said. “It wasn’t like we have to push or pull. He was always saying, ‘Take me here, take me there,” so we just did what he wanted and let him fly.”
Travis Ganong said having his family support him has been a big boost. They were some of the only fans up in the grandstands during the training runs, he said.
“My parents decided to move to Tahoe way back in the day and I was lucky enough to be born there and that fact is why I’m here today,” Ganong said. “They’re the ones that motivated me, drove me to all the races, really allowed me to ski as much as I did growing up.”
Ganong has a one-week break before he will be back competing in the super-G next Sunday.